I visited Past Master Morgan in the nursing home a few times before he passed on. I wasn't yet a member of his Lodge but had heard he could use a visit. (I say "yet" because I was being groomed to help fill in their line, bring familiar with my Masonic work.) It's always a pleasure and treasure to talk to our older Brethren, and I received both in full measure. In fact, he said something that became a cornerstone of my leadership practice:
Give everyone something to do.
This wasn't shoving the newly raised into the empty Junior Deacon's chair. This was about giving people, from the start, a reason to be involved in some way, with or without a station or place. Remember, he was coming from a time when people waited for years just to BE in line. So how do we apply it now?
It hit me from another angle. The same few people doing all the work is a pervasive issue in all organizations. With it comes incessant complaining. Why is that? Well, you'll kick yourself if haven't figured it out because it's actually insanely simple — leaders wait for people to volunteer and members who would be willing are never asked. Over time, the expectation of Brothers to help are less and less and so it falls on the Officers, which in turn leads Brothers to believe it is exclusively the officers’ job to “run the lodge”. Eventually, no one is asked to help and the few who insist or are elected or appointed become resentful of lack of help. It’s a self-fulfilling and self-defeating prophecy.
I endeavored to solve this. When my time came in the East, I ignored distinctions between Officers and “Sideliners”. I heeded Past Master Morgan's sage advice. No one was on more than one committee so I could have more people doing more things, however small. And I ignored geography where I could, asking out-of-town Brothers or those who otherwise could not attend Lodge to do other tasks, such as setting up the newsletters or call Widows during the holidays. We ended up with Brothers who were not officers doing more work than some who were. Some people who didn't attend Lodge started to, or at least fulfilled duties at other times. And this wasn't by accident. I did the magical thing — ASKING THEM.
And yes, people who cannot or do not attend Lodge are still part of the Lodge. They can still be part of the Work. In fact, one Masonic author despised the term “attending” Lodge for this reason — it strengthens the idea of spectator-ism rather than living our allegories of laboring together.
The principle behind all of this is a recognition that above all else, our Lodge IS our Brothers. They are both our primary purpose and our best resource. Countless words have been written about bringing Brothers back to Lodge, waning participation, and not forgetting those we haven’t seen. These are all deeply related in both cause and solution.
Based on this I created the “Right to Work Lodge" model. It sees the ideal Lodge as one whose Brothers strive to find and give meaningful tasks and responsibilities to all of its members, regardless of stations, places, or even the ability to attend communications.
This is done by:
- Reducing the distinction between officers and "sideliners", shifting the purpose of a communication from attending to participating;
- Establishing regular contact with members who cannot attend due to infirmity, distance, and any other reason, providing them with a list of duties they may assume that can be done remotely;
- Provide opportunities for spouses, widows, and children to participate in, rather than just attend, the programs and initiatives of the Lodge, thereby strengthening the bonds between Brothers in their everyday lives;
- Have an advisory committee of ALL living Past Masters of the Lodge and consult as many as possible, even if infirmed or at a distance, on at least some decisions to be made, and voice their opinions in open Lodge;
- Having a stated "Roll Call" where ALL members' names are called, with Brothers sharing tidings of those who are not present, such as their location, health, or a short message they may wish to be shared;
- Encouraging or inviting guests to participate in ritual where appropriate;
- Making sure newly affiliated Brothers, especially those from merged or dissolved lodges, are given equal opportunity in ritual and other work.
The largest problem many Lodges and bodies have is that we have insufficiently accurate records on Brothers and widows. We need to hunt down lost Brothers and Widows, even if it means gleaning obituaries or sending out postcards to last known addresses. Local addresses can even be visited in person. (And it is inexpensive for a month's subscription to WhitePages Premium to find possible numbers and addresses.) We also ought to verify or acquire as many used email addresses as possible, something that will most regularly and affordably solidify communication for most of the Brethren.
To aid in making everyone feel involved, I also established two informal classifications of members: "True Men of Tyre", those out-of-town Brothers who can still benefit the Lodge or at the least keep in touch so we can share their messages and tidings; "The Men of Joppa", those in-town Brothers who find it difficult or impossible to attend Lodge but may still wish to be invited and welcomed into other events and projects.
There are more ideas and many ways to implement them, and what is best for your Lodge will be dictated by its own situation. But one thing is universal. The symbolic backdrop of our allegorical existence is that of WORK. Do we think most operative masons were there to listen to minutes and vote on paying bills? Can we honestly believe most of them were sideliners, or not given any tasks? I would suggest a Lodge – operative or speculative – should be judged not by its good intentions or hanging on by a thread through trying times, but by how actively and consistently it involves its Brethren in meaningful Work. The "Right to Work Lodge" attitude and strategies, by this or any other name, does just that.
Bro. Ken JP Stuczynski is a member of West Seneca Lodge No.1111 and recently served as Master of Ken-Ton Lodge No.1186. As webmaster for NYMasons.Org he is on the Communications and Technology Committees for the Grand Lodge of the State of New York. He is also a Royal Arch Mason and 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason, serving his second term as Sovereign Prince of Palmoni Council in the Valley of Buffalo, NMJ. He also coordinates a Downtown Square Club monthly lunch in Buffalo, NY. He and his wife served as Patron and Matron of Pond Chapter No.853 Order of the Eastern Star and considered himself a “Masonic Feminist”.